ST. LOUIS -- Ryan O'Reilly was back at NHL Honda All-Star Weekend, this time as a Stanley Cup champion, not someone who was hoping to find a way into the playoffs.
"I think we've got as good a chance as anyone to win again," the St. Louis Blues center said Thursday at All-Star Media Day. "I'm very confident in that. But at the same time, it comes with a lot of work. That's our mindset. We can't win a Cup right now.
"It's starting by building and building. Yeah, we want to be playing our best hockey by the time playoffs comes. Take it one game and one series at a time."
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At the All-Star break last season, the Blues were three points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, three weeks after being last in the NHL standings.
This season has been significantly different. The Blues have been among the best teams in the NHL, leading the West at 30-11-8 and six points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division heading into the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
"Obviously last year was a very different story," O'Reilly said. "We had to build and squeak in and go from there, and this year we're in a good spot right now, but the focus is still on building our game. We have to keep getting better and better and there's no perfect way to do it.
"It starts with getting into the playoffs and winning that first round and building from there. Our goal is to be playing our best hockey by the time playoffs come."
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O'Reilly was traded to the Blues by the Buffalo Sabres on July 1, 2018 for centers Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, forward Tage Thompson, a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
St. Louis made a coaching change early in O'Reilly's first season, firing Mike Yeo on Nov. 20 and replacing him with Craig Berube. They were last in the NHL on Jan. 3.
But O'Reilly was confident the Blues could make the playoffs, and he said so at All-Star Game Media Day last season.
"The first part of that season you could tell how much guys cared, how much guys wanted to win," O'Reilly said. "Playing top teams, we made it very difficult on them. We saw we could get to them and beat those teams. So it gave us a lot of belief. We liked those games that were tight and physical and hard-hitting. We knew that was playoffs, what it was like. So we just knew we had to get in and go from there."
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The Blues qualified as the second-place team from the Central Division, then eliminated the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks before defeating the Boston Bruins in seven games to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since entering the NHL in 1967.
"Looking back on last year, our situation, you could tell around this time, we were starting to get close," O'Reilly said. "Things were starting to click a bit. You could tell when we did play well how effective we were against some of the top teams in the League. Seeing that kind of unravel, we knew sometimes things would click and then we'd get some momentum and that's exactly what happened."
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It's a lot easier to be at the top of the standings than working their way back from the bottom, even if that means the Blues have significantly more pressure on them.
"Obviously we made a great push and got in the playoffs," O'Reilly said. "This year, having [had] our group together more has been so good. We just know our identity. And when things don't go well, we're able to get back to it a lot quicker, hence why we've been able to be at the top of the division and maintain it."